Emotional intelligence and social intelligence are no longer optional in leadership. And there are many leadership styles, yet there is only one kind of leader that raises profits while also growing people, engaging employees, cultivating thriving teams, and producing brilliant results.
That’s authentic leadership. This leadership style can make the most significant difference. And showing up authentically as a leader clears the obstacles to success with one irreplaceable skill that outshines all others.
What Does Authentic Mean?
The dictionary definition of authentic is: “not false or copied, genuine, real; having origin supported by unquestionable evidence; representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself; reliable and trustworthy.” A tall order.
The sad truth: very few know how to be authentic, let alone have the stamina to learn and integrate it. Being authentic requires guts. A leader’s title, office, or status is only as powerful as the person who leads. And the only way to build the brain circuitry to support social intelligence is through changing your behavior. A person willing to grow in self-awareness and self-management will prune habits that undermine their leadership–and that’s hard work!
Why is the person in a leadership role so essential to success?
How we do anything in business is directly linked to our mastery—or lack thereof. If we are self-critical, we will be critical of our employees. If we are too soft, we’ll tend toward being a people pleaser afraid to lead crucial and difficult conversations. If we are ill-disciplined, we’ll be inconsistent in follow-through. And if we can’t manage ourselves, we will be unable to lead others.
When qualities like empathy, resilience, humor, and emotional resonance are lacking, becoming a great leader is near impossible. Leaders with social intelligence inspire others to be effective and to step into high performance. Dynamic leaders lead from within. Authentic leaders have a moral compass, take an intuitive approach, yet screen and measure everything with logic and results.
Emotional Intelligence Is Foundational to Authentic Leadership
When emotional intelligence competencies like empathy, resilience, humor, and emotional resonance are lacking, becoming a great leader is near impossible. Leaders with social intelligence inspire others to be effective and to step into high performance. Dynamic leaders lead from within. Authentic leaders have a moral compass, take an intuitive approach, yet screen and measure everything with logic and results.
Leadership requires self-awareness because we must first be able to observe and lead ourselves intentionally. Secondly, we must model the behavior we desire; otherwise, there is disparity that disempowers leadership. And thirdly, a leader needs to be able to lead others to a higher vision of themselves, each other, and their team. Cherniss and Goleman (2001) assert that about 90 percent of leadership success is accounted for by emotional intelligence.
To understand the four aspects of emotional intelligence, see our blog, “What Is Emotional Intelligence?”
As brain science advances, we’ve learned a great deal about our social interactions. Although it’s imperative to learn emotional intelligence, when it comes to being an authentic leader, social intelligence is indispensable.
Why Social Intelligence Matters
Let’s start on the same page by defining social intelligence.
Social intelligence is the ability to understand ourselves, our environment, and each other and respond efficaciously. It also means to choose moral behavior in a social capacity that benefits a group and connects them as a team with practical optimism and positivity. This kind of intelligence is the ability to get along with others resourcefully while recognizing and decoding human behavior in a social context. A leader with this proficiency galvanizes teams around a purpose and vision.
Social intelligence is a cousin to common sense with the ability to communicate clearly, empathize, and create connections and cooperation with others. Harvard Business Reviews writes: “Leading effectively is, in other words, less about mastering situations—or even mastering social skill sets—than about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.”
This might seem like a mouthful, maybe even an unsurmountable goal. However, the above aptitude is hardwired in our brains. We are social creatures.
Researcher Matthew Lieberman of UCLA links social connection and discomfort in the brain. Being socially connected to caregivers is critical for survival; therefore, to be excluded or isolated is threatening to the brain. Also, our brains are wired for relationships. Every person is dramatically impacted by social interactions beginning with their family of origin.
So why does this matter to leaders and companies?
David Rock, who coined the term "Neuroleadership" explains why this social ability is crucial for leaders to understand:
“Although a job is often regarded as a purely economic transaction, in which people exchange their labor for financial compensation, the brain experiences the workplace first and foremost as a social system…. Most people who work in companies learn to rationalize or temper their reactions; they “suck it up,” as the common parlance puts it. But they also limit their commitment and engagement. They become purely transactional employees, reluctant to give more of themselves to the company, because the social context stands in their way. Leaders who understand this dynamic can more effectively engage their employees’ best talents, support collaborative teams, and create an environment that fosters productive change. Indeed, the ability to intentionally address the social brain in the service of optimal performance will be a distinguishing leadership capability in the years ahead.”
Companies cannot thrive without leaders who inspire and care about their employees. Employees are the backbone of every company; only engaged employees uplift a company to massive success.
Dive deeper and listen to the expert, Daniel Goleman, who brought emotional intelligence and, more recently social intelligence to the forefront of business. Here’s a fabulous video of his address at Google.
One Critical Skill Promotes Authenticity and Catapults Leaders' Effectiveness
How well do you integrate what you learn? Think about it for a moment. Are you the kind of person (or leader) that stuffs him or herself with learning, devours information like a vacuum sucks up dust? If so, you may want to reconsider how you’re digesting knowledge.
Great leaders not only have a growth mindset, they relentlessly apply what they learn. You can soak up knowledge all day long; you can attend extensive trainings, have ah-ha moments, and even transformative experiences; however, it’s what you do afterward that determines whether you will change for the better.
In the past, I traveled to business trainings and conferences regularly. What I observed was a fascinating phenomenon. The speaker would get everyone excited at the possibilities of change and phenomenal success. The group energy would peak, and then on the break, tons of people would run to the back of the room to buy the latest program or book.
The psychology is simple. Excitement creates impulsiveness, and big excited groups magnify the experience. Elevated emotions override rational thinking and motivate buying. Most likely, no action will be taken once the excitement wears off. Many people are ravenous learners but lousy implementers.
Related reading: "Why Emotional Intelligence Is Crucial in Business Today"
How Do Leaders Acquire Social Awareness and Intelligence?
It’s not enough to hear about a concept or to devour the latest knowledge on leadership. Personal and professional transformation require uncomfortability, focused attention, persistence, and fortitude to change. We must apply a new behavior repeatedly and consistently with a deliberate intention to integrate a skill or new practice into a well-oiled habit. Then and only then does the behavior become a part of who we are as a person and a leader.
“As humans, we tend to avoid the pain that comes with unlearning. But the people who make the most positive difference in the world are not like this. They are the ones who are able to discern when they need to change and then be brave enough to do so even when the cost is high. These kinds of people make amazing teammates because they are able to consider people and ideas that others won’t. They make amazing leaders because they are able to choose the right thing to do over the easy thing to do. They make amazing citizens because they don’t stop learning and thinking as the world around them changes. Scientists have a term for people like this: Intellectually Humble.”
We need more leaders who have intellectual humility.
This emotional and social intelligence ability to learn, stretch, apply, and integrate what you learn is the one skill that trumps all others and skyrockets leaders to success.
Authentic leaders do what they need to do without hesitation; they have self-awareness and look squarely at their shortcomings; they lean into the uncomfortable with introspection and the know-how to execute what needs to be changed in themselves and their companies. These mindsets make them more successful leaders and better human beings.
Leaders with authenticity repeat this process over and over to be their best. And if you want to be an effective leader, it’s what you need to do and be. Reach down deep and become the best version of yourself. Lead authentically—and watch how your results skyrocket!
For support with this process, reach out to us. Transformation is our business and Heartmanity’s specialty. When leaders desire to transform the company culture, very few realize just how difficult it is. Why? Because changing human behavior goes against our need for safety, self-preservation, and ignites our threat-reward response system. Replacing limiting beliefs and unproductive behavior is our forte at Heartmanity. And it’s fun because we get to witness the extraordinary results of our work. Check out Heartmanity for Business